KANT IN THE CLASSROOM     Materials to aid the study of Kant’s lectures

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Kant’s Rise to Full Professor

“You will hear no eulogy today, nor would he want it, given his humility; and in truth he needs none, for his writings and his students are his eulogy.”

“Sie hören heute keine Lobrede auf ihn; er wünscht sie nicht, denn er ist bescheiden; er bedarf sie auch wahrlich nicht, denn seine Schriften, seine Schüler sind seine Lobrede.”

— from L. E. Borowski’s biography of Kant [1804, 18]

1. Kant’s Graduation as Magister
2. Kant’s Habilitation: Magister legens
3. Kant’s Early Years as Lecturer. Failed attempts at: [Knutzen’s Assoc. Professorship]  [Gymnasium Position]  [Kypke’s Full Professorship]
4. Kant as Full Professor[Pulling Strings]  [The New Professor and his Duties]
5. Kant’s Opportunities Elsewhere: [Halle]  [Erlangen]  [Jena]  [Mitau]  [Halle, once more]
6. Kant’s Retirement ... from teaching ... from the Senate


After working about six years as a private tutor in outlying towns [more], Kant was back in Königsberg by 1754 where he published two brief essays in German on the earth’s rotation [writings] and age [writings], as well as his ill-fated book on Universal Natural History (1755) [writings], also in German, that was printed but left undistributed due to the publisher suffering bankruptcy and having his stock of books impounded. Bad luck and poor reviews of his literary efforts may have encouraged the young Kant to return to the university, and begin a career there, which required that he obtain a degree.

One peculiarity here is that Kant’s return to the university was not entered into the matriculation records. Normally, an academicum repetit  was entered into the Matrikel along with the name upon resuming membership in the academic community. This suggests that Kant was able to retain his academic citizenship during his years as a Hofmeister.


Kant’s Graduation as Magister [top]

In partial fulfillment of graduation as a magister, Kant presented his handwritten Latin treatise, Meditationum quarundam de igne succincta delineatio [writings] to the philosophy faculty on 17 April 1755. He then successfully completed his oral defense or examen rigorosum on May 13 (we do not know which faculty members participated in this), he paid his fees with the help of his great-uncle Richter, a master shoemaker on his mother’s side,[1] and the Magister degree was publicly awarded to him on Thursday, June 12, 1755, in the large auditorium of the university — a room described by Vorländer as a “long, but low room, decorated with pictures of Prussian nobility” [1924, i.75].[2]  Johann Bernhard Hahn [bio], the dean of the philosophy faculty (who also happened to have been the rector overseeing Kant’s matriculation fifteen years earlier) gave a talk on the different titles of honor at Jewish graduations, and then Kant made a few closing remarks, in Latin, “on the lighter and on the more thorough instruction in philosophy” (Vom leichteren und vom gründlichen Vortrag der Philosophie).[3]  Ludwig Borowski [bio], who was in possession of this now lost speech of Kant’s, was on hand to file a report:

After the usual examination, he was publicly graduated on June 12. I still remember most vividly the rare confluence of respectable and learned men at the graduation ceremony, and during the Latin talk that Kant held after his graduation, a splendid silence and attentiveness throughout the auditorium gave honor to the day that received this new Magister. [Borowski 1804, 32]

Nach dem gewöhnlichen Examen ward er 1755 am 12 Junii öffentlich promovirt. Es war, ich erinnere mich’s noch lebhaft, bei dem Promotionsakt ein seltener Zusammenfluß von hiesigen angesehenen und gelehrten Männern und bei der lateinischen Rede, die K. nach der Promotion hielt, legte das ganze Auditorium durch ausgezeichnete Stille und Aufmerksamkeit die Achtung an den Tag.

We also have a report of the event from the following Saturday’s edition of the Wöchentlich Königsbergischen Frag- und Anzeigungsnachrichten (14 June 1755):

On last Thursday, June 12, the philosophy faculty held a public Magister graduation before an impressive audience, in order to confer the highest honor of philosophy [Weltweissheit] upon the talented candidate, Mr. Emanuel Kant, a Königsberger. The current dean of the faculty, Herr Doctor and full professor [Professor Ordinarius] Johann Bernhard Hahn, as the master of ceremonies [Brabeuta], gave a detailed speech from Jewish antiquity on the titles of honor that ancient Jews used in their academic graduations — Rabh, Rabbi, and Rabban. The newly created Magister, however, closed the ceremony [Actum] itself with a word of thanks. [Qtd. in Reicke 1881, 294]

Am vergangenen Donnerstage, als den 12. Junii, hat die hiesige Philosophische Facultaet, eine öffentliche Magister Promotion bey einem ansehnlichen Auditorio gehalten, und dem geschickten Candidate Philosophiae, Herrn Emanuel Kant, einen [sic] Königsberger, die höchste Würde in der Weltweissheit conferiret: wobey der jetzige Decanus Facultatis, Hr. Doctor und Professor Ordinarius Johann Bernhard Hahn, als Babeuta, eine ausführliche Rede aus der Jüdischen Antiqvitaet, von den Ehren Tituln der alten Juden bey ihren Academischen Promotionen, Rabh, Rabbi und Rabban, gehalten, den Actum selbst aber der neu creirte Magister mit einer Dancksagung von den [!] obern Catheder beschlossen hat.


[1] Rink [1805, 31], repr. in Malter [1990, 30]; Heilsberg, qtd. in Reicke [1860, 48].

[2] An etching of a ceremony from 1844 in this room is reproduced in Hubatsch [1966, 14].

[3] Zammito [2002, 54] notes that the words used here — leichtern and gründlichern — are precisely those used by Thomasius and by Wolff to distinguish their opposing approaches to philosophy, such that we might see, even at this early stage, Kant working through the tension between the popular philosophy of Thomasius and the Schulphilosophie of the Wolffians.


Kant’s Habilitation: Magister legens [top]

Kant turned next to the matter of his habilitation, after which he would be not merely a Magister, but a Magister legens — a lecturer or Privatdozent, a Magister with the privilege to teach (venia legendi). So on Saturday, September 27th, a few months after his graduation, Kant defended a second Latin treatise, Principiorum primorum cognitionis metaphysicae nova dilucidatio, commonly referred to as the Nova dilucidatio [writings]. All pro receptione disputations (like all disputations held by Magisters) were held in the “philosophy auditorium” (a room that doubled as the student cafeteria, or Convictorium [glossary]) on either Wednesday or Saturday morning [Arnoldt 1746, ii.349]. The participants were Christoph Abraham Borchard (Respondent),[1] Johannes Gottfried Möller (Opponent), Friedrich Heinrich Samuel Lysius (Opponent), and Johannes Reinhold Grube (Opponent). The text of the title-page of the 38 pp. program reads:

Principiorum primorum / cognitionis metaphysicae / nova / dilucidatio / quam / consensu amplissimae facultatis / philosophicae / dissertatione publica / in auditorio phil. die 27. Septembr. / horis VIII-XII / habenda / pro receptione in eandem / defendet / M. Immanuel Kant, Regiom. / respondente / Christophoro Abrahamo / Borchard, Heiligenb. Bor. / S.S. theol. cultore, / opponentibus / Johanne Godofredo Möller, Reg. / S.S. theol. stud. / Friderico Henrico Samuele Lysio, Regiom. / I.U.C. / et / Johanne Reinholdo Grube, Reg. / I.U.C. / anno MDCC LV / Regiomonti, / typis sacr. maiest. et univ. typogr. I. H. Hartungii. (reprinted at Ak: 1: 387-416;).


[1] Borchard matriculated at Königsberg on April 20, 1752. Kant wrote an entry in Borchard’s Stammbuch (which is preserved at Thorn) on November 5, 1758: “Priusquam inceperis consulto, et postquam consulueris / mature facto opus est. Sallust: / Haec amico dignissimo / in memoriam sui comendat / Immanuel Kant / Art: Mag. Leg. // Regiom: Pruss: / Die 5. Nov. 1758”. This Stammbuch is described and quoted in Stark [1985a, 329].


Kant’s Early Years as Lecturer [top]

He disputed with acclaim on the 27th of September of the same year [1755], and then soon began to hold lectures on logic following Meier; on metaphysics at first following Baumeister, then with the more foundational, but also more difficult Baumgarten; on physics following Eberhard; on mathematics following Wolff.[1]  He also set up practice debates [Disputierübungen] with his students, and from the very beginning his roomy lecture hall could not hold the throng rushing to him. [...] In addition to the above subjects, Kant also lectured on natural law, moral philosophy, natural theology, and later on anthropology and physical geography. His diligence as a teacher was fully recognized by the inspectors and teachers of the university, and yet he remained as a lecturer for fifteen years before being able to gain a professorship. After Knutzen’s death,[2] he applied in April 1756 for his position as associate professor of philosophy. This was unsuccessful, for the government was at that time thinking of eliminating this rank of professorship. [Borowski 1804, 32-34]

This summary of Kant’s early years comes from Ludwig Ernst Borowski (1740-1831)[bio], a friend and occasional dinner guest of Kant’s in later years and one of his first biographers — although he declined to attend Kant’s funeral, as Kuehn points out [2001, 3-4]. Back in 1755, when Borowski was just a second-semester college student,[3] he was also on hand to record Kant’s first lecture in the WS 1755/56, which probably took place on Monday, October 13, 1755:

I attended his first lecture in 1755. He lived then in Professor Kypke’s house in the Neustadt, and he had there a fairly large lecture hall. This, as well as the stairway and the entrance hall, were filled with an incredible number of students.[4]  This seemed to cause Kant some embarrassment. Unaccustomed to such a situation, he almost lost his composure, and spoke even more softly than usual, often correcting himself. But this gave us only a more lively and wonderful impression of the man whom we presumed to be the most learned of all, and who seemed to us merely modest, rather than fearful. In the next lecture things were already quite different. As in the lectures that followed, his delivery was not only thorough, but also liberal-minded and pleasant. The textbook, which served more or less as a basis, was never followed strictly, but only served to order his own thoughts according to the sequence of the author’s. Kant’s vast learnedness would often lead him into long asides, which were still always quite interesting. When he noticed he had strayed too far, he would abruptly break himself off by saying “and so forth,” and turn back to the subject-matter. Often he would bring a handwritten notebook along with the textbook. In the latter, he had written marginalia. — Admittedly it was necessary to pay close attention to his lectures. [Borowski 1804, 185-86]

Ich hörete ihm im J. 1755 in seiner ersten Vorlesungsstunde. Er wohnte damals in des Prof. Kypke Hause, auf der Neustadt und hatte hier einen geräumigen Hörsaal, der samt dem Vorhause und der Treppe mit einer beinahe unglaublichen Menge von Studirenden angefüllt war. Dieses schien K. äußerst verlegen zu machen. Er, ungewöhnt der Sache, verlor beinahe alle Fassung, sprach leiser noch als gewöhnlich, korrigirte sich selbst oft: aber gerade dieses gab unserer Bewunderung des Mannes, für den wir nun einmal die Präsum- [186] tion der umfänglichsten Gelehrsamkeit hatten und der aus hier bloß sehr bescheiden, nicht furchtsam vorkam, nur einen desto lebhafteren Schwung. In der nächstfolgenden Stunde war es schon ganz anders. Sein Vortrag war, wie er's auch in der Folge blieb, nicht allein gründlich, sondern auch freimüthig und angenehm. Das Kompendium, welches er etwa zum Grunde legte, befolgte er nie strenge und nur in so ferne, daß er seine Belehrungen nach der Ordnung des Autors anreihete. Oft führete ihn die Fülle seiner Kenntnisse auf Abschweifungen, die aber doch immer sehr interessant waren, von der Hauptsache. Wenn er bemerkte, daß er zu weit ausgewichen war, brach er geschwind mit einem “Und so weiter” oder “Und so fortan” ab und kehrte zur Hauptsache zurück. Oft brachte er ein besonderes handschriftliches Heft außer dem Kompendium mit. In diesem hatte er sich marginalien beigezeichnet. — Freilich war rege Aufmerksamkeit bei seinen Vorträgen nöthig.

Kant lectured that first semester on logic, metaphysics, mathematics, and probably physics.[5]  During these early years, Kant lectured nearly every semester on logic, metaphysics, mathematics, physics, and physical geography, as well as moral philosophy, mechanical science (SS 1759, WS 1759, SS 1761), fortification, and possibly pyrotechnics. Towards the end of his career as a Lecturer, he taught natural law for the first time (SS 1767) as well as philosophical encyclopedia (WS 1767/68; this was an introductory course providing an overview of philosophy, including its history).


[1] A complete list of textbooks used by Kant is found in the Lectures pages.

[2] This passage leaves the order of events ambiguous. Knutzen [bio] had died in 1751, several years before Kant’s return to Königsberg.

[3] Borowski matriculated at the university on March 20, 1755, and with the theology faculty on April 14, 1755, so he presumably began attending classes during SS 1755 (classes would have begun on April 14). Kant’s younger brother, Johann Heinrich Kant, matriculated with the university and the theology faculty on the same days as Borowski. Both Borowski and Johann Kant are listed as attending Kant’s lectures this semester [Arnoldt 1908-9, v.178-9].

[4] Gause claims that the number of students in this class was seventeen (including seven from Schlesia); these numbers were recorded at all only because of a government inquiry that semester regarding attendance levels [1974, 21]. Gause elsewhere [1996, ii.150] reports eighteen students (again, with seven from Schlesia), and cites Selle [1956, 389].

[5] Stuckenberg mistakenly claims that he lectured only on mathematics and physics [1882, 68].


Failed Application for ... Knutzen’s Associate Professorship [top]

During the Easter vacation following his first semester of teaching, on April 8, 1756, Kant applied to King Friedrich II for the associate professorship in logic and metaphysics that had been left vacant since Martin Knutzen’s death in 1751. Consideration for a professorship required that one give three disputations, and in his application letter Kant noted he had already given two dissertations “of metaphysical content” (viz., De igne and Nova dilucidatio, both in the previous year) and “soon after the coming Easter vacation will give the third” (viz., Physical Monadology). Kant then petitioned for “the associate professorship of logic and metaphysics that was made vacant through the death of Professor Knutzen” [#5; Ak. 10:3].[1]

Kant submitted his third Latin dissertation — entitled “The Employment in Natural Philosophy of Metaphysics combined with Geometry, of which Sample One Contains the Physical Monadology” — on March 23, defending it (again in the student cafeteria) on 10 April 1756, a Saturday, with the following participants: Lucas David Vogel (Respondent), Ludwig Ernst Borowski (Opponent), Georg Ludwig Muehlenkampf (Opponent), and Ludwig Johannes Krusemarck (Opponent).[2]  The title page of the 16 pp. essay reads:

The employment in natural philosophy of metaphysics combined with geometry / of which sample I. / contains / the physical / monadology / which, / by consent of the most eminent faculty of philosophers / on the 10th of April / hours 8-12 / in the philosophy auditorium / defended by M. Immanuel Kant. / The respondent, / Lucas David Vogel, / Königsberg in Prussia, candidate in sacred theology. / The opponents are the honorable and accomplished young gentlemen / Ludwig Ernst Borowski, / Königsberg in Prussia, candidate in sacred theology. / Georg Ludwig Muehlenkampf, / Trempen near Darkehmen in Prussia, candidate in sacred theology, / and / Ludwig Johann Krusemark, / Kyritz in the Mark, candidate in sacred theology / in the Year 1756. / Königsberg

Metaphysicae cum geometria junctae / usus in philosophia naturali, / cuius / Specimen I. / continet / monadologiam / physicam / quam, / consentiente amplissimo philosophorum / ordine / dissertatione publica pro loco habenda / die X. aprilis horis VIII-XII / in auditorio phil. / defendet / M. Immanuel Kant, / respondente, / Luca Davide Vogel, / Reg. bor. S. theol. cultore. / opponentibus adolescentibus ingenuis ac perpolitis / Ludovico Ernesto Borowski, / Regiom. bor. S. theol. cultore. / Georgio Ludovico Muehlenkampf, / Trempia ad Darkehmiam borusso theol. cultore, / et / Ludovico Joanne Krusemarck, / Kyrizensi marchico S. theol. cultore / anno MDCCLVI. / Regiomonti, / typis sacr. reg. maiestatis et univ. typogr. I. H. Hartungii.

The petition was ultimately unsuccessful and the position was never filled — the next associate professor of logic and metaphysics appearing in the records is Johann Friedrich Gottlieb Lehmann, who held the position from 1800-1818. Prior to Knutzen’s death, the position had been filled continuously since 1715 (see the list of Logic/Metaphysics faculty).


[1] In his letter to the King, Kant promised to hold the third disputation soon after Easter break; he in fact held it before: Easter that year fell on April 18, so the new summer semester (marking the end of the Easter vacation) would have begun on May 3. A photograph of Kant’s letter is printed as Plates XI-XII in Gause [1996].

[2] Reprinted at Ak. 1:475-87. Beck [1992, 87] confuses this story, claiming that this disputation was held in pursuit of the full professorship of logic and metaphysics that became vacant two years later in 1758. The affair is briefly mentioned in Borowski [1804, 34-35].


Failed Application for ... a Position at a Gymnasium [top]

In the fall of 1757, Kant applied for a teaching position at the Kneiphof Latin school (the so-called “Domschule” because it was attached to the cathedral) — a school with about ten teaching positions. This should not be seen as an attempt to leave the university, as it was common for university lecturers to supplement their incomes with a position at one of the Latin schools as well. Kant’s friend Theodor Michael Freytag was also teaching there at the time. In any event, Kant was passed over for Wilhelm Benjamin Kahnert (1728-1786).[1]


[1] See Heilsberg’s mention of Kant’s application in Reicke [1860, 47], as well as Warda [1898], Vorländer [1924, i.81], Klemme [1994, 38], and Kuehn [2001, 110]. Arnoldt [1881, 633-36] discusses this at considerable length.


Failed Application for ... Kypke’s Full Professorship [top]

In 1758 the chair of logic and metaphysics was vacated by the death of Johann David Kypke [bio], who had held this chair since 1727. Kypke died on December 10, and Kant was not slow to put in his request, with a letter to the Academic Senate dated December 11 (#7; Ak. 10:4), a letter to the Philosophy Faculty dated December 12 (#8; Ak. 10:5), and a letter to Elisabeth, Empress of Russia, dated December 14 (#9; Ak. 10:5-6). Kant notes in his letters the requirements for candidacy to such a position:

The remaining tests of my efforts I hope to satisfy with 2 public dissertations on metaphysical matters, 4 philosophical treatises in scholarly journals, 3 programs, and 3 other tracts.[1]

Die übrige Proben meiner Bemühungen habe in 2 öffentlichen dissertationen über metaphysische Materien, in 4 philosophischen Abhandl: im Intelligentz W[erk] in 3 programmatibus und in 3 andern tractaten abzulegen gesucht. [#7; Ak. 10:4]

As might be expected, others were also interested in this position, and Kant’s application was joined by those of Flottwell, Buck, Hahn, Thiesen, and Watson. Borowski claims that the Pietist powerbroker and theology professor F. A. Schultz [bio], who was at the time serving his seventh term as university rector, favored Kant's application [1804, 35-36], and insisted that the university forward Kant’s application to St. Petersburg along with that of Friedrich Johann Buck [bio], the associate professor of mathematics. Buck had seniority over Kant, however [philosophy faculty timeline], and was favored by both the Academic Senate and the local government, and in the end he received the position.[2]  This wouldn’t have surprised anyone, as Buck was a talented and successful lecturer and a competent scholar. It is only from today’s vantage that the choice seems remarkable — preferring a nearly forgotten and certainly minor figure in the history of ideas over a world-class philosopher.[3]


[1] All three letters have nearly identical wording here. The twelve writings (2+4+3+3) appear to include everything he had published so far (see Kant’s Writings). The two dissertations would have been his two published Latin disputations (New Elucidation and Physical Monadology), the three programs would have been the three lecture announcements (Theory of Winds, West Winds, and Motion and Rest), the four philosophical treatises were possibly the two longer Living Forces and Universal Natural History and the shorter Rotation of the Earth and Age of the Earth, and the three remaining tracts would have been Kant’s three 1758 essays on earthquakes.

[2] Coelestin Christian Flottwell [bio], who was already a full professor of German Rhetoric, died prematurely within a month of this opening; Mathias Watson [bio] soon left for a position at the Academy at Mitau; Gottfried Thiesen [bio] was a full professor of medicine; and Johann Bernhard Hahn, Jr. [bio] was an associate professor of rhetoric and history.

[3] This failed application is discussed in Gulyga [1987, 34-37] and Kuehn [2001, 118]. Gulyga, with his access to Russian records, suggests an additional possible reason for Kant’s failed application. Andrey Bolotov, a member of the Russian chancellary, was a deeply-committed Crusian (the following year he would become a faithful student of the newly minted lecturer and Crusius disciple, Daniel Weymann [bio]). Kant had earlier been deeply influenced by Crusius, but was at this point well-known for his Wolffian and anti-Crusian sentiments; Buck, on the other hand, was possibly already using Crusius’s textbooks in his logic and metaphysics lectures (the first evidence in the lecture catalogs of Crusius being used by anyone at Königsberg is WS 1760/61, and this was in Buck’s logic lectures). So Kant clearly had a detractor in the chancellary and, if nothing else, this might have helped derail his application.


Kant as Full Professor [top]

Kant’s situation began to improve in the mid-1760s when his “Demonstration of the Existence of God” (1764) found acclaim in Berlin — Moses Mendelssohn [bio] published a long and flattering review in Briefe, die neueste literatur betreffend in April and May of 1764 — and this occured at the same time that his “Inquiry concerning the Distinctness of the Principles of Natural Theology and Morality,” which Kant had submitted for the 1763 Berlin Academy of Science essay contest, was published alongside Mendelssohn’s first place essay as a close second. Kant had published only a few months earlier (January 1764), what was to become his most successful work during his lifetime — Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime — which received fifteen reviews and numerous re-printings [Zammito 2002, 87-88]. Johann Samuel Krickende in Berlin wrote (9 Nov 1764) to Kant’s friend Johann Georg Scheffner [bio] in Königsberg that ...

Magister Kant is in uncommon favor here. Sack and Spalding recently gave a regular panegyric for him at our table, claiming his to be the finest of philosophical heads, with the gift of presenting the most abstract truths so simply that they are clear to everyone. Magister Weymann is a non-entity in the mouths of the inspectors, and the scrawlings of two lifetimes couldn’t save him from that. [Scheffner, Briefe, i.447; repr. in Malter 1990, 108]

Kant was also heavily involved in Kanter’s newly-founded literary newspaper, the Königsbergischen Gelehrten und Politischen Zeitungen;[1] and was now publishing all of his work with Kanter.

On August 5, 1764, a letter from the Berlin ministry and signed by von Braxein (the Budget Minister in Königsberg), asked whether Kant was interested in the chair of poetry that had been vacant since the 1762 death of Johann Georg Bock [bio] [Ak. 13:24]. Kant declined this offer, noting that he had not applied himself much to that field and that his main interests lie elsewhere.[2]  Von Braxein’s report back to Berlin (19 October 1764) recommended that Kant be promoted to the full professorship of logic and metaphysics as soon as it became available, on the grounds that he was a skillful and popular lecturer [Warda 1911, 558].


[1] It was here that Kant anonymously published his “Essay on the Maladies of the Mind” [writings] and his review of Silberschlag [writings].

[2] It appears that Kant was working hard to get this job for his old friend Lindner, who was currently the rector at Riga’s cathedral school; see Hamann’s letters to Lindner (March 16 and November 23, 1764; as repr. in Malter 1990, 76-77). Lindner did in fact receive the appointment.


Pulling Strings [top]

Christoph Langhansen [bio], the full professor of mathematics as well as of theology, died after a long illness on 15 March 1770. Kant wasted no time, and sent a letter the very next day to Minister von Fürst[1] — not to ask for this position, but rather to suggest a few possible re-arrangements in the philosophy faculty. He noted that Christiani [bio], the full professor of moral philosophy, had as much knowledge of mathematics as anyone else at the university (such as might request Langenhansen’s vacated chair), and that he has also taught the subject with great success. But if that didn’t work out, then perhaps Buck [bio], the full professor of logic and metaphysics, could be re-assigned to that position. In either event, Kant would be happy to accept the vacated position. He added that ...

... Doctor Buck, who is currently occupying the professorship of logic and metaphysics [...] was also for several years the associate professor of mathematics, and received the vacated logic and metaphysics professorship only because of the Russian government; otherwise I would have received it, given the recommendation of the university. [Ak. 10:90]

Also worth noting is that Kant had lectured on mathematics nearly every semester in his first years as a Privatdozent, but that he had abruptly stopped after WS 1763/64.

Three days later Kant sent another letter to Berlin, this time to the King.[2]  Kant noted in this letter how he had recently been offered a chair at Erlangen, with a salary of 500 Rhenische Gulden.[3]  A letter from Berlin, dated March 31 and signed by Friedrich II and Minister von Fürst offered him the job, at the salary of 166 rthl. 60 g. Pr. plus benefits (Emoluments)[Ak. 10:93-94].


[1] Letter to Carl Joseph Maximilian Freiherrn von Fürst und Kupferberg, the Oberkurator of the Prussian universities from 1763 to 1771 [#51; Ak. 10: 90-2].

[2] Letter to King Friedrich II, dated 19 March 1770 [#52; Ak. 10:92-93].

[3] According to the conversion offered by Engel (1 Rhenische Gulden = 2 Rthl. + 2 gr. + 2 pf.), this salary would be equivalent to 1011 rthl., 65 gr., 10 pf. — six times the salary of a professor at Königsberg [1965, 17].


The New Professor and his Duties [top]

Kant was officially received into his new position at the Wednesday meeting of the academic senate on May 2, 1770.[1]  After teaching for fifteen years as a lecturer, Kant was promoted to the post he desired, the full professor of logic and metaphysics, and with this came a change of duties. For instance, lecturers were allowed to freely choose their courses, the only constraint being popularity with the students, but full professors, being salaried by the government, were required to teach certain courses at certain times, and to teach these “publicly” (that is, without cost to the students). They also were required to take a turn serving as dean of their faculty: with the eight full professors of the philosophy faculty, this meant serving every eighth semester. (For Kant's duties as an administrator, see Kant as Dean, Senator, and Rector.)

The new appointment also involved another public defense of a Latin treatise on August 21, a Tuesday — this time his inaugural dissertation “Concerning the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World” (De mundi sensibilis atque intelligibilis forma et principiis). This time the disputation took place in the auditorio maximo, the largest hall in the university building where the most important celebrations occurred, and where Kant’s graduation ceremony as magister took place. The participants, other than Kant, were Marcus Herz (Respondent), Georg Wilhelm Schreiber (Opponent), Johann August Stein (Opponent), and Georg Daniel Schroeter (Opponent). The title page of the 38 pp. essay reads:

On the form and principles of the sensible and the intellgible world. / Dissertation for the position / of ordinary professor of logic and metaphysics / which / according to the statutes of the university / will be publicly defended / by Immanuel Kant. / The function of respondent will be undertaken by / Marcus Herz, Berlin, / of Jewish descent, student of medicine and philosophy / against opponents / Georg Wilhelm Schreiber, Königsberg in Prussia, student in the faculty of philosophy. / Johann August Stein, Königsberg in Prussia, candidate in both laws / and / Georg Daniel Schröter, Elbing, candidate in sacred theology. / In the large lecture hall at the usual morning and afternoon hours / The 21st of August, in the year 1770. / Königsberg.

De / mundi sensibilis / atque / intelligibilis / forma et principiis. / Dissertatio pro loco / professionis log. et metaph. ordinariae / rite sibi vindicando. / quam, / exigentibus statutis academicis, / publice tuebitur / Immanuel Kant. / Respondentis munere fungetur / Marcus Hertz, Berolinensis, / gente iudaeus, medicinae et philosophiae cultor. / contra opponentes / Georgium Wilhelmum Schreiber, Reg. Bor. art. stud. / Iohannem Augustum Stein, Reg. bor. I.U.C. / et / Georgium Danielem Schroeter, Elbing. S.S. theol. C. / In auditorio maximo horis matutinis et pomeridianis consuetis / Die XXI. Aug. A. MDCCLXX. / Regiomonti, stanno regiae aulicae et academiae typographiae.

The summer semester of 1770, with classes beginning on April 30, was Kant’s first semester as a full professor. Kant’s two public courses were logic and metaphysics, and he was required to teach these at 7 AM on the main teaching days (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday). He began offering logic each summer and metaphysics each winter, which he continued up through SS 1796 (his last semester to teach). Kant also continued to lecture privately on a variety of other courses, his two mainstays being physical geography (summer) and anthropology (winter), both of which he taught Wednesdays and Saturdays for two hours each day. During these years he also taught courses on moral philosophy, natural law, natural theology, theoretical physics, pedagogy, philosophical encyclopedia, and mineralogy (WS 1770/71).

An additional professorial duty arose for Kant beginning in WS 1774-75 by way of a directive from the Ministry in Berlin requiring the philosophy faculty to offer each semester a public course on education (Collegium Scholastico-Practicum). The education of the students who left the university early to become teachers needed improving, and this course was designed to that end. It was to be taught publicly by the various full professors on a rotating basis, and Kant’s turn to teach it first came in the WS 1776-77. See the account of this course in the section on Kant's Lectures.


[1] Euler [1994]. The current senators were Quandt [bio] and Arnoldt [bio] (Theology), L’Estocq [bio] and Kowalewski [bio] (Law), Bohl [bio] and Büttner [bio] (Medicine), and from the lower faculty: Teske [bio] (physics), Christiani [bio] (Practical Philosophy), Buck [bio] (Mathematics), and F. S. Bock [bio] (Greek).


Kant’s Opportunities Elsewhere [top]

In recounting Kant’s promotion to the full professorship of logic and metaphysics, Borowski concluded that...

The goal of Kant’s aspirations, of making himself useful as a full professor, were satisfied by his homeland’s own university, and he gladly set aside offers made to him to teach elsewhere, such as Halle...

So fand K. denn auf seiner vaterländischen Universität das Ziel seiner Wünsche, ihr als ordentlicher Lehrer nützlich zu werden und wich allen den Vorschlägen, die ihm nach an- [38] dern Orten hin, namentlich nach Halle *) gethan wurden, gerne aus.

Borowski then noted that Kant had added in the margin of the manuscript of his biography: “Jena, Erlangen, Mitau, and once more Halle” [Borowski 1804, 37-38; Kant had read and annotated Borowski’s biography in 1792].

Two years earlier, in letter of 25 March 25 1790 to François de la Garde, Kant wrote that he had a number of offers from other universities — four while still a lecturer, that is, before 1770 [Ak. 11:146; #414]. The literature shows him declining offers from Halle, Erlangen, and Jena during this period, but the offers from Mitau and “once more Halle” came in 1774 and 1777, respectively. Offers can be made and rejected in various ways, of course, and even letters or formal records can be mislaid.


Halle [top]

In 1765, Kant had been proposed for a position at Halle, although Kant eventually declined the position — just as well, since the King also declined Kant. In a discussion of Friedrich II’s involvement in university affairs, Bornhak writes:

In 1765 Minister von Furst proposed several professors, among them Kant, as professor of mathematics for Halle. The king sent back the incomplete appointment on September 1, 1765, with the request that von Furst propose cleverer people, whose erudition and merit is further along. For Kant, this was not especially painful, since he had in the meantime declined the position in a letter to the Minister, citing his insufficient knowledge of mathematics and his love of his homeland. [1900, 107-8][1]

It is unclear whether Kant believed he was turning down a solid offer, or just the possibility of one.


[1] Kant lectured on mathematics during 15 of his first 17 semesters of teaching, and so it might seem odd that Kant would claim a lack of ability here. Yet he last taught mathematics during WS 1763/64, and we have no record of him even offering the course afterwards. It has also been noted more recently that Kant’s knowledge of mathematics was wholly inadequate, having advanced little beyond what would be taught in a Gymnasium [Waschkies 1987; Brandt 1999].


Erlangen [top]

Kant was offered a newly (23 November 1769) created professorship of logic and metaphysics at Erlangen, with a salary of 500 “Gulden Rheinl.” and five cords of firewood,[1] along with 100 rthl. for moving expenses. Earlier in October, Kant had expressed interest in such a position, but by mid-December he changed his mind, claiming a strong preference for his hometown and his wide circle of acquaintances there, but especially noting that his physical powers were not equal to the move.[2]


[1] The term used is Klaster, roughly equivalent to a cord of wood (understood as a stack of firewood 4 feet by 4 feet by 8 feet). Engel [1965, 8] lists a Klaster as equivalent to 3.59 cubic meters.

[2] The text of the decree signed by Christian Friedrich Carl Alexander, Markgraf of Brandenburg, is reprinted in Falckenburg [1902]. See the 11 December 1769 letter sent to Kant from J. C. Rudolph, writing on behalf of the University of Erlangen, and Kant’s reply of 15 December 1769 to Simon Gabriel Suckow [bio], Erlangen’s professor of mathematics and physics. Kant expresses his regret on declining the position, explaining that he is now more inclined to stay in Königsberg for reasons of his circle of friends, his frail health, and because of a possible position opening up for him [Ak. 10: 82-83, #47; transl. in Zweig 1999, 101-2]. See also the letter from C. F. Ziegler (dated 3 January 1770) [Ak. 10:84-86; #48]; Ziegler was a Hofmeister overseeing the studies of two barons at Erlangen, and wrote to Kant inviting him to live with him and the two barons, offering the use of all four vacant rooms if needed (for lecturing in as well), and in general singing the praises of the university, with its new library, an observatory to be built by next summer, a botanical garden, etc.


Jena [top]

A month later Kant received a letter from Ernst Jakob Danovius [bio] dated 12 January 1770 [Ak. 10: 87-88, #49]. Danovius was a theology professor from Jena who had recently visited Königsberg, spending time with Laval, Motherby (and their “dear spouses”), as well as the entire Toussaint household and, of course, Kant. He was making a tentative inquiry as to Kant’s interest in a newly created chair of philosophy. It would come with a salary of 200 rthl. and no more than two hours of public lectures per week, with the suggestion that he could easily make another 150 rthl. by offering an additional three hours of private lectures each day (an equivalent of six private courses per year).[1]  If Kant was interested, Danovius wrote that he would present his case to the court in hopes of procuring an offer for him. By now Kant could see that an opening at Königsberg was imminent, given Langhansen’s illness and, in any event, a firm offer was never made.

And yet, as Vorländer notes [1724, i.186-87], what a remarkable change of events, had Kant accepted this position and spent his remaining decades living among Goethe, Schiller, his former student Herder, and all the talent that they were attracting to the area.


[1] In 1765 Kant had been on the list of candidates for a chair of philosophy at Jena, but the position was given instead to Justus Christian Hennings [bio]; see Ak. 13: 41.


Mitau [top]

Kant also received an offer from Mitau near the end of 1774. Mitau (now Jelgava) lies some 300 kilometers north-east of Königsberg, and about 40 kilometers south-west of Riga in present day Latvia, and was then the capital of Courland. The city school was reformed in 1775 as the Academia Petrina, and thus a Gymnasium or Academy, rather than a university. Kant was asked to assume the rectorship at the academy both at its founding (1774), and then again in 1776. The position was eventually filled by J. A Starck [bio]. Kant’s pastor brother, Johann Heinrich Kant (1735-1800), served as its rector from 1775-81, before accepting a pastoral position in Altrahden.[1]


[1] In a letter of 4 January 1778 to his brother, Johann Heinrich Kant writes: “Mitau reached out its arms to you three years ago. Was it love of fatherland, or what was it, that you did not want to come? [...] I am still the Rector; that means, being condemned for life to the galley.” [#126, Ak. 10:221]  Two years earlier (21 January 1776) he wrote: “So we rejoiced all in vain, to have you here in Courland?  I’m told you are not coming. That is not right — you would have found here a brother, who loves you, and a sister-in-law who would like to meet you, and who deserves to be loved by you” [#107, Ak. 10:189]. See also Gause [1996, ii.245-46].


Halle, once more [top]

Georg Friedrich Meier [bio] had been teaching philosophy at Halle since 1739, having studied there under the Baumgarten brothers (Siegmund [bio] and Alexander [bio], and he eventually assumed A. G. Baumgarten’s chair when the latter left for Frankfurt/Oder. Kant had been using Meier’s Auszug as his logic text almost without exception for the last 22 years. Meier’s death on June 21, 1777, had several repercussions in Königsberg. Moses Mendelssohn’s famous visit to Kant’s classroom [more] occurred later that summer (August 18), and among other things he asked Kant for suggestions in filling Meier’s position; Minister von Zedlitz had asked Mendelssohn to propose a replacement, and Mendelssohn wondered if Kant’s student, Christian Jakob Kraus [bio], would take the job. Kraus had been attending classes in Königsberg since SS 1771, and had not yet graduated (he would do so in 1780 from Halle, where it cost less). Kraus was out of town during Mendelssohn’s visit, but visited Kant the following Sunday and was told of the discussion. Kraus viewed himself as not yet ready for such a position; Kant agreed, but suggested he work up something philosophical and dedicate it to Zedlitz, and that Mendelssohn would then help him find another position [Voigt 1819, 68-69; repr. in Malter 1990, 143-44].[1]

It is unclear when Zedlitz began to consider Kant for the Halle position.[2]  In his letter to Kant of February 28, 1778, he writes: “You would do me a favor, my dear Professor Kant, if you accepted, for a salary of 600 rthl., a position in Halle as professor of philosophy, as proposed by the King” [Ak. 10:224-25, #129; repr. in Malter 1990, 145]. A month later (March 28) Zedlitz raised the offer to 800 rthl., and noted various other enticements. There is in Halle a strong faculty – Zedlitz specifically mentions W. J. G. Karsten and Johann Peter Eberhard (Kant had used Eberhard’s Erste Gründe der Naturlehre as his physics text during the 1750s and early ‘60s, and a text of Karsten’s at least once in the 1780s in his physics lectures), Goldhagen, Niezky, Maeckel, Thunman — “and the theology faculty is better appointed than anywhere else in Europe. ... Look at all the good people!  Germany’s intellectual center, and a better climate than there on the Baltic Sea!  I need not say to a man who thinks as you do that one has a duty to extend one’s useful knowledge and light to as wide a circle as possible” — and in Halle there are some 1000 to 1200 students [Ak. 10:228-29, #132]. [3]


[1] After Kant’s death, Christian Jakob Kraus remarked that ...

It never occurred to Kant to ask for anything, to want more. Whether he received a call to Jena while still a lecturer, as I have heard from others, I don’t know: he never thought it worthwhile to mention it. After Meyer’s death in Halle, Zedlitz offered him this professorship with a quite handsome salary and the title “Hofrat” and other prospects; and when Kant turned all this down, Zedlitz wrote back quite impassioned, asking how he could, in good conscience, prefer Königsberg with its 300 students over Halle with its 1000 students that he might affect. But Kant stayed, and indeed precisely from a purer conscientiousness towards his hometown. [Reicke 1860, 59]

Kanten fiel es nie ein, um etwas für sich zu bitten oder zu ambiren. Ob er als Magister einen Ruf nach Jena erhalten, wie ich von andern gehört, weiß ich nicht: er selbst hielt es nie der Mühe werth von so etwas zu sprechen. Nach Meyer’s Tode in Halle trug ihm Zedlitz diesen Lehrstuhl mit einem sehr ansehnlichen Gehalt mit dem Titel: Hofrath und andern Aussichten an, und da Kant alles ablehnte, faßte ihn Zedlitz von der empfindlichsten Seite: wie können Sie, schrieb er, es vor ihrem Gewissen verantworten, lieber in Königsberg auf 300 als in Halle auf 1000 Studirende zu wirken: aber Kant blieb, und zwar gerade aus einer reineren Gewissenhaftigkeit in seiner Vaterstadt. Wie Zedlitz überhaupt ein herzlicher und geistreicher Mann war, so war auch der Ton in seinen Briefen an Kant.

[2] Although it is clear that Kant was not Zedlitz’s first choice. Krouglov [2011, 91-93] has shown that Tetens [bio], who had just published his Philosophische Versuche über die menschliche Natur und ihre Entwicklung, was first on the list.

[3] A rumor surfaced some ten years later that Kant had in fact accepted a position at Halle — but it was just a rumor, of course, and there's not even evidence of an offer ever having been made at that time. From a postscript [pdf] to Andreas Will’s Vorlesungen über die Kantische Philosophie (Altdorf, 1788) we find the following:

As these sheets were being printed I read in the newspapers that Herr Kant will assume Herr Eberhard’s position at Halle, who has left for Göttingen. This change, like many that take place at Halle, is very unexpected and important; Herr Kant is to be marvelled at, with his advanced years and the work he has undertaken, and at least as remarkable, with the completion of the kantian philosophy, that it should go where the Wolffian philosophy, with its daughter, the Baumgartian, had gone, with both being pushed aside by the Kantian.

Unter währendem Abdruck dieser Bögen lese ich in Zeitungen, daß Herr Kant an die Stelle des nach Göttingen abgehenden Herrn Eberhards nach Halle kommen soll. Diese Veränderung ist, wie mehrere, die auf der Hallischen Universität vorgehen, sehr unerwartet und wichtig, vom Herrn Kant bei seinen Jahren und den Arbeiten, denen er sich unterzogen, zu bewundern, immer aber wenigstens deswegen merkwürdig, daß nun die Kantische Philosophie daselbst vollendet werden und ausgehen soll, wo vorhin die Wolfische, mit ihrer Tochter der Baumgartischen, ausgegangen ist, die jetzt beide von der erstern verdränget werden.

The newspaper spreading this rumor has not been found. Nor did Eberhard [bio] ever leave Halle for Göttingen.


Kant’s Retirement from Teaching [top]

The amount of disagreement as to when Kant actually stopped teaching is quite remarkable.[1]  It appears that his last day of teaching was July 23, 1796[2] — but even if this date is correct, it is not unproblematic. Arnoldt lists the beginning- and end-dates of Kant’s logic lectures for SS 1796 as April 11 (Monday) and July 23 (Saturday); the beginning-date is what one would expect: Easter fell on March 27 that year, the new rector would have been elected the following Sunday (April 3), and classes would have begun eight days after the election. But logic meets on a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday schedule, so it is unclear why Kant would have met for the last time on a Saturday. Repetitoria always met on Saturday, but Kant is not listed as having offered one this semester — and in any event, they are given their own beginning and end-dates, and treated as a separate course offering. His physical geography course met on Wednesday and Saturday as usual, and is listed as beginning and ending on Wednesday: April 13 and July 13 [Arnoldt 1908-9, iv.431, v.327]. In any event, Kant stopped in mid-semester, possibly at the beginning of the mid-semester break (the so-called “Dog Days” vacation). He had also ended his lectures somewhat early the previous several semesters (see Table: Kant’s Lecturing Activity by Semester).

Although no longer lecturing, he was still required as a full professor to list courses in the Lecture Catalog. Thus the university records show that Kant announced a course on metaphysics for WS 1796/97 — but there is no evidence that it took place. Similarly, logic and physical geography are listed with Kant’s name for SS 1797, but followed by the note: “modo per valetudinem seniumque liceat”; and in the Lecture Catalog for the next semester, WS 1797/98, in the section on “Public Lectures: Philosophy” we find the notice: “Ob infirmitatem senilem lectionibus non vacabit Facult. Philos. Senior Venerabilis Log. et Metaphys. Prof. Ord. Kant” [Arnoldt 1908-9, vi.431, v.328]. Several student groups presented a musical farewell concert for Kant outside his home on Wednesday, June 14, 1797 [Benninghoven 1974, 156].[3]


[1] Borowski reported that Kant “gave his public lectures until 1797, but had already given up the private lectures in 1793” [1804, 184-85]. Jachmann reported that “he limited his teaching in J. 1794” given his growing weakness from old age [1804, 15]. Rink reported that he stopped lecturing in the middle of 1795 [1805, 40]. Hasse reported that he hadn’t held any lectures since 1793. Schubert reported that he gave up his private lectures in WS 1795/96, and continued to teach only his public courses (logic and metaphysics), quitting these at the end of the SS 1797 [1842, 140, 146]. Having described taking Kant’s lectures during WS 1793/94, Reusch wrote: “Kant only read for another semester, suspended his lectures, gradually also his walks” [repr. in Malter 1990, 401]. See Arnoldt’s discussion [1908-9, v.328-31].

[2] This dating depends on two sources: (1) an undated letter to Fichte, that Arthur Warda has been able to assign the date 13 October 1797, in which Kant wrote that the weakness accompanying his old age “forced him to give up lecturing one and one-half years ago” — which places the end-date around April 1796, and (2) university records that show Kant ending his physical geography lectures for SS 1796 on July 13, and his logic lectures on July 23. See Warda [1901, 88].

[3] Remarks on behalf of the students, ending with three cheers, were delivered by the 20-year-old Graf Heinrich Lehndorff (1777-1835). Originally printed in Köstlin [1889; repr. at Ak. 13: 579-80 and Malter 1990, 437-38]. Stuckenberg’s normally reliable biography claimed that this student salute marked the beginning of Kant’s last semester of classes [1882, 427-28]  The official occasion was to mark 50 years of Kant’s literary endeavors.


Kant’s Retirement from the Senate [top]

It was customary to retain a professorship until death, regardless of one’s ability to carry out the various associated duties. Kant remained on the academic senate, but stopped attending the weekly meetings since 1795. He declined the dean’s position in WS 1794/95 (Kraus [bio] filled-in for him) and SS 1798 (Mangelsdorff [bio] filled-in), and the rectorship in SS 1796 (Reusch filled-in).[1]

Gotthilf Christian Reccard [bio], the senior professor in theology, was also inactive in the senate, and the absence of two senators from a total of ten led the university chancellor, Georg Friedrich Holtzhauer [bio], to request on 19 November 1797 that the senate replace Reccard and Kant with adjuncts.[2]  He noted that Reccard and Kant had compromised the integrity of the senate by not attending the weekly meetings, and had thereby tacitly declared themselves retired [printed at Ak. 13:592]. 

In a detailed letter of 3 December 1797, Kant replied to the rector, Johann Daniel Metzger [bio], that Holtzhauer's proposal suffered from three faults. First, a declaration (either explicit or tacit) that one can no longer attend the meetings of the senate is not equivalent to resigning from the senate, since many duties can still be performed at home (as when one of the rector’s assistants, a so-called pedelle [glossary], comes round to each senator’s home with a sealable envelope to collect their votes on various matters that cannot wait until the next Wednesday meeting). Kant adds here that he wishes such a voting mechanism were used more often, since it gives more time for mature judgment on important issues. Second, the adjuncts replacing them would not really be senators and so could not vote as senators. Third, the action is insulting, diminishing the rights of the senators [Ak. 12:439-40]. The situation in the Prussian universities was different than in the Reich. In Prussia the position of professor emeritus was not recognized, full professorships instead being life-long, with full pay as professors as well as for membership in the senate — even when health or old age disallowed them from performing their duties. True retirement did not exist.

It appears clear from the letters that such a move against an older senator was a novelty. Nonetheless, and despite Kant’s protests, Holtzhauer asked the local governmental authority, the Budget Ministry, for two adjunct positions to replace Kant and Reccard [28 July 1798; printed at Ak. 13: 594]. Three days later the Ministry replied that Reccard and Kant had both served the university for many years with honor and usefulness, that they can be trusted to continue to do so as far as their powers allow them, and that assistance with their academic office will not be assigned to them when they have requested none [Ak. 13:595]. That settled the matter until 1801, when Kant’s younger colleague, C. J. Kraus voluntarily retired from the Senate, with Wannowski replacing him [Reicke 1860, 42]. Metzger, as rector again, renewed the call for Kant’s retirement (letter to the senate, November 6, 1801), with senators Reusch [bio] and Mangelsdorff both objecting. Reusch noted that it was not within the powers of the senate to force one of its members to retire — only the king can do that — and it would in any event be unwise to open themselves up to such easy removal by their peers. The senate eventually agreed to have Metzger write to Kant and seek his agreement to retire, so long as he could retain his salary as senator (12 November 1801). In a brief letter dated November 14, Kant agreed, and was subsequently replaced by Hasse.[3]


[1] Benninghoven [1974, 156]. Kraus’s report is in Reicke [1860, 52-53].

[2] This was done possibly at the instigation of Johann Daniel Metzger, a professor of medicine serving as rector during WS 1797/98, and whose relation with Kant was not always friendly.

[3] The official Hofrescript appointing Kant to the senate as Christiani’s replacement (11 August 1780) noted that he would receive annually 27 rthl. 75 gr. 10 pf. (as reported by Kraus in Reicke 1860, 52). This last exchange of letters is reprinted at Ak. 12: 441-42. Much of this account of Kant’s retirement comes from Euler [1994].

Copyright ©2006 Steve Naragon (Manchester University)
Last modified: 2 Sep 2013
Please send comments and questions to: ssnaragon@manchester.edu